Embracing change for a broader perspective on environmental sustainability

February 9, 2016

Leaving a place you call home is never easy. Whether your destination is 50 or 4,000 miles away, if it’s not where you grew up, it’s foreign and terrifying. Removing yourself from what is comfortable and replacing it with something unknown is commonplace in the daunting realm that is “becoming an adult.”

I experienced this fear starting my career as a student at UW-Madison a little over two years ago, and I’m experiencing a similar, if not more intense, version of that feeling now, sitting in a café in downtown Copenhagen.

I had never left the United States before I embarked on my journey and stepped off the plane in Denmark, where the only things familiar to me were my suitcases. Jet-lagged and dazed, I spent the first few days bussing and walking around the city, wide-eyed and excited about the newness of it all.

The best way I know to describe how I felt – and still feel – is like a newborn baby. I don’t speak the language, I don’t know how much the coins are worth, and even opening doors can be confusing. Everything is different, but different is good. Especially because I have taken myself away from my friends and family to pursue the knowledge of a specific difference between the United States and Northern Europe – the difference in environmentally sustainable practices.

"In my short week exploring
[Denmark] I have already seen
how the ways of handling
consumption, waste and
transportation have been
developed to make the
easiest option synonymous
with the most sustainable one."

Through five semesters and at least half a dozen environmental studies classes, my professors have given me extensive knowledge regarding environmental science, ethics and the history of the United States’ relationship with the natural world. Through all of these classes, one common theme has presented itself time and time again: when it comes to preserving natural resources, other countries are better.  

This is why I found it necessary to leave my home country to pursue knowledge that could only be found in more sustainable societies, like that of Denmark. In my short week exploring this country I have already seen how the ways of handling consumption, waste and transportation have been developed to make the easiest option synonymous with the most sustainable one.

Plastic bags are not provided at grocery stores; you must either remember to bring your own or be forced to buy one. Some form of public transportation (bus, train or metro) can take you anywhere within the city, and even to many places outside of it (i.e. the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which is about a 50-minute train ride from central Copenhagen). Bikes are everywhere and are oftentimes the most efficient mode of transportation (it takes me 25 minutes to get to school if I take the bus, but only 15 if I bike).

These are things I’ve noticed in only one week of living in this city, and through my enrollment in two classes focused on sustainability and environmental policy, I anticipate learning much more.

This blog is dedicated to documenting and comparing the sustainability efforts made in Denmark, Sweden and Germany to those of the United States. I hope that this direct comparison will help to show not only how progressive environmental policy is being implemented in developed countries throughout the world, but also how perceived obstacles of sustainability initiatives, such as monetary cost, are virtually nonexistent.

Copenhagen, Denmark photo by Madeline Fischer

Madeline Fischer is a junior at UW-Madison from Blanchardville, Wis., double majoring in environmental studies and life sciences communication. While studying abroad for the spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, she will document her experience on a student blog, Bringing Bæredygtighed Back.